Every year, The Canadian Press poles the nation’s news editors for the purpose of naming its annual Canadian “Newsmaker of the Year.” This year the vote determined that an alleged murderer who posted evidence of his crime on YouTube was their man. Consequently, many politicians and citizens have condemned the collective decision and have petitioned the news agency to take the title away from the accused.

The protestors argue that such recognition for the suspected murderer is both disrespectful to the victim of the crime and simultaneously gives the alleged villain more of the very attention he seemed to be seeking. They argue that “Newsmaker of the Year” sounds a lot like “Man of Year,” and so gives other potentially dangerous individuals impetus to do something equally cruel in pursuit of fame. I agree.

But, while I concur with all of the above points, I’m not convinced of the protestors’ conclusion that the CP should have found a “Newsmaker of the Year” who had made a positive contribution. To my mind, if the Canadian Press is going to have a “Newsmaker of Year,” then—given that the making of news is often the province of negative agents—on what definition of “newsmaker” would murderers be excluded? Instead, I think the only way to avoid championing horrific acts is to for the CP to abolish this careless contest of significance that is the “Newsmaker of the Year” program.

The Canadian Press’s editor-in-chief, Scott White, explains that “Newsmaker of the Year” is neither a popularity contest nor a commendation. He argues that editing out unpleasant newsmakers from contention would be like excluding certain politicians from an election. This is an interesting analogy, except, while freely voting for government is a crucial aspect of running a democracy, a newsmaker election seems to have no journalistic purpose other than crowing a top newspaper seller. So, if White’s right (and I think he is) that the only way to have a “Newsmaker of the Year” is to sometimes allow for murderers to receive an extra shot of fame for fame-seeking behaviours, then maybe we don’t need to name a top newsmaker each year. The risk of copycat crimes outweighs the benefits of a self-indulgent poll.

I don’t see anything wrong with looking back at the significant stories of a past parcel of time. If the Canadian Press wants to review the previous news year for us and discuss the most significant stories, then could they not achieve such results without creating the impression that the most followed event of the year has won some sort of newsmaking championship?

In similar meta-news-manufacturing, CNN and other 24-hour news stations often ask their viewers to vote on what is the top news story of the day, so that the anchors can then refer to the top choice as “the most popular news story.” What for?

Once again, such voting and ranking creates a callous celebratory tone as it connotes an audience’s appreciation for certain stories. Whether those “voting” are enjoying the negative stories or not, the language of such polling gives an impression of approval. But, again, for what purpose? Do we really need to know what story people think is the “top” story of the day?

I could accept the legitimacy of such information if it were under the guise of viewer analysis or feedback. Perhaps questions such as “What is the most significant story of the day to you?” or “What story should lead our news coverage?” would be reasonable if the news agencies presented the results as a sociological look at its viewers without the fanfare of a beauty pageant. But, instead, the presentation of these surveys is akin to a simple top ten list that allows news followers a chance to “play along” with the news as though it were a game show.

While such polls of the day are immature, The Canadian Press’s “Newsmaker of the Year” is both childish and reckless. Many have argued that giving an alleged murderer a grand designation is wrong because it is nourishing his malevolent ego. I agree, but to my mind the greater crime here is that this manufactured title is giving potential killers a bigger carrot of fame to chase.


  1. Thank you, TomM. I suppose you’re right. At its simplest form, this is just another instance of sensationalizing the news.

  2. Thanks Bob. I’m not convinced that would solve the problem of immoral people or painful events acquiring the title. Although, perhaps it would leave less room for protest if the people chose it.

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